tv How May I Help You CSPAN July 16, 2017 12:32am-1:03am EDT
here and then we have roundta e roundtables that will feature several contributers. tonight we are excited to have you hear. >> i am from india and moved to the united states about 13 years ago in 2003. i have an mba from india and was working for bbc world service in india. when i came here, i came from a good educational background, spoke well, and came from good,
well known organization so i thought i would have no problem getting a job. i was surprised by mba and educational qualifications and experiences didn't matter much and my accent. i was working in radio. they think baghdad instead of pakistan. so, i took a job and this happened. so, a few things about me. how i came to the united states. her name was holly and i met her and we became friends and more than friends, fell and love ago married and i came to the country.
that is how america became my new home. back in india, my parents wanted me to get an mba. i am not an mba person but in india you make a lot of money and get married. i did get an mba but didn't get the job they wanted. i also married a woman not of their choice but they liked her anyway. i came here and stuff in this book -- in india, there is a lot of prejudice if you are educated. if you take a job, a small job, parents think that -- people look down on you for doing something meaningful and judge you. i had that in the back of my mind. it was constant -- this thing in the back of my head that people are judging me about.
i couldn't look in their eyes when they looked at me. i went to hide in the back room. cindy, my boss skimmed the back room and said we have indian shoppers who want buy a dvd and want to know if it will work in india. i said one of our team members is from india and he can answer better. i came out and the man smiled and said are you from india and yes, i am and he smiled. which part? north. we are from mom by and have a question. you have a question? yes. my son is in medical school here. we are visiting him but now we are going back and the lady said while scanning me top to bottom. what can i help you? trying to avoid the next question. mothers of my friends volunte volunteered their son's salary and asked mine. it was a way of judging their
son. we are trying to buy a dvd player but want to make sure it will work in india. let me see i said and walked to the dvd section. are you studying at the university the man asked? no, i am not. what are you doing here? >> i am working here. we worked in india, i said. okay. my background is in media. i said i am new in america. i am trying to find a better job. yes, i was thinking about that. you seem to be an educated chap you can do better than this the man replied. i was acting as if the couple would fly to india and go tell my parents about what i was doing. out of more than one billion indians in india and around the world the chances of the shopper in my store to be someone who would know my parents were next to zero but it didn't matter.
i couldn't get it out of the my system. when the training finished, i had no business being in the back room. my first reaction was to avoid being seen as a salesman by anyone who looked to be indian. i didn't know any of the indians but it seemed like i could read their minds. you pathetic indian you came to america to do this? a white lady came into the store and looked into in her 80s and walked slowly my boss gesture i helped to her. she came up to me and said hi, i am looking for a battery for my watch. my brain did a quick search. she took her wrist watch off and set it on the counter.
i found myself clueless. i knew i had learned about finding batteries for watches but i could not recall anything. i asked her do you know what kind of battery this take? i don't know but you should be able to look it up. i watched her leave the store and wondered if she had any children or grandchildren and felt sorry she had to buy the watch battery herself. my grandmother who died at the age of 80 often asked me to get her glasses fixed, pick up medicine or he judged us harshly and i am sure neighbors thought we were foolish and selfish. sindy put down the screw driver and was walking toward me. she came to me, brought her face to mine, and starred at me for
only a few inches away. all i could see was a white face smiling but with gritted teeth. she had what did you learn from the customer service training? she said let me remind you and don't forget every customer has to be greeted within stepping foot in the store for five seconds. i had i will never forget it and not wait for them to come to you. she raised her one thumb up in the air and smiled again and went back to what she was doing. i wasn't confidant i could answer the question. i handed the receipt to the l d ladies and one looked at me and said you will get there. i wiped the sweat off my
forehead and felt like i had just been dealt the longest 20 minutes of life. we have to do a few things before they close. why don't you try to help me because he was insecure and not a good enough salesman himself. i wasn't sure. i left work after a very long and emotionally exhaustive day. my wife came to pick me mooe up since the city buses stopped running after nine at night. she put the car in gear and we drove off. a few seconds later she asked me how was your first day. i didn't know what to say. i wasn't sure if the 85-year-old lady coming to get a watch battery was more shopping than sindy berating me for bad customer service or not helping the young women was worse.
i responded and said how is your day and i took a teep death and she said it is all right. we can talk again later. >> do you have a question? >> so are you still selling and how is it going? >> this happened ten years ago. i am not selling. 2004-2006. i was working with bbc and went back radio and writing and i am a full-time writer now. >> when during the process of did you write this book? was it after? or during? >> i wasn't thinking of writing the book when i was working because it was too overwhelming
to sell and not get fired. i wasn't thinking about that. about three years later, i started thinking i don't think i would do that again. that kind of job or go back to selling batteries and stuff i didn't know existed like shower radio. i don't know why people listen to radio in the shower. it was hard to convince someone to buy a shower radio and not know what it was more. you step out of the shower and then listen to the radio. so i started writing the book and five years later i finished: i went back to india and thought about it a lot. i wanted to write for me, and my friends, and maybe they believe know what it was like to work in retail for two years in virginia with americans who speak an extra syllable in every word. >> what was it like? >> it was good.
i worked in bbc with the english folks and my accent was different. but i thought i spoke fine when i came to charlottesville. if you drive ten miles out of charlottesville you will be in rural virginia and people have a southern drawl there. it took a long time for me to understand them and them to understand me. it was rough in a lot of ways. but the book is not just about my experience. it is about me learning about my colleagues. the most shocking thing was how i learned poverty in the united states, people who were working with me were trying to make ends meet on $7 an hour. i didn't have any kids, mortgage, loan, debt, i didn't have any child support to pay or any kind of burden. the people working with me had kids, they had to pay child support and child care and health care, and mortgages and lots of debt.
they were just trying to do that while working with me in retail. i often thought, you know what, i can quit this is go back to india and do what i was doing there. but thinking of the people like ron and cindy and jacky they didn't have a place to go back to. this was their life. if they were going to get out of that retail store they would probably end up in a different one similar kind. i developed a lot of empathy for my colleagues. it also helped me reexamine my own self. i came from a high cast hindu and just for two years i lost all the privileges i had in india like people coming and cooking for you. i was sitting on the floor, and vacuuming and cleaning and doing jobs and i realized what about
the people who do these jobs on a daily bases in india? maybe they are doing this because that is what they are good for. they didn't go to school, have a job, or get education to get job, but i realized it is not about -- a lot depends on where you come from and what kind of advantages you have in life. what kind of background. if you were the son of a (inaudible) in india it is unlikely to become a ceo of a company. it is a vicious cycle like a dog chasing its tail. you can ask more questions. >> did you work in retail in different parts of the united states or just in virginia? >> just in virginia. i got to know people well and
they didn't say anything about that. i have to explain over and over. some people said bad things but a lot of those people who were really gracious and nice and supportive and wanted to give me the time to understand. i kept saying for a long time this is my fourth day, fifth day, first week, and then they were like you have been here a month.
i wonder if you would use like awkward social mobility to describe your working friends here? >> do i select that? >> i wonder like if you would use awkward social mobility to see what the current is here? >> i am not quite sure your question. but you know this book is about my downward mobility. i started from india, had a good job. if i had stayed in india i probably would have kept going up but here it took a dive and i went from a cushy job to standing on your feet for eight hours. it was two years. i worked here for two years. so, i did the same thing. i didn't move up. i mean my manager asked me to go for manager training so i could
become manager but she was the manager and worked hard and did the same thing i was doing. i didn't want to become a manager because it would have meant i moved to a different city on a different store and i was with my wife who was going to school at university of virginia for a phd. i chose to be in that store and position for a long time. when i quit, i quit. i have been to retail after that. yes, another one. >> i wonder how you realize dignity? >> my humility took a big dent in the beginning. when i came, i just started the
day wearing a uniform that was like a shirt, khaki pants, name tag and sitting in front of the store and customers didn't want to am in. they are nice to you but you have to be very nice to them. you have to smile every day no matter how unhappy you are or what is going on in our life you have to put on a smile. you have to be very nice to every single person and they don't have to be nice to you at the same time. so, not saying every customer is rude but you can find people who are not so nice. your dignity takes a -- somebody says something and you cannot get upset because you have to carry on. it is just a balancing act. you know, you just learn to like brush off bad things and keep going. you also learn in my case, i particularly learned what it was
like to be human and a sales person and be in someone else's shoes. i left that job and never went back. but some are still working those jobs. a lot of indians come here and working at hotels and a lot of them are educated people and do this because the education is not valued the same level. i met a lot of people who were doctors back in india but didn't want to do the seven year residency and took a job like whole foods or somewhere else because they wanted to send their kids to school. it is a lot of suffering. people give up a lot to come here but of course america offers a lot to move ahead but they also sacrifice a lot. >> what are your impressions of
the states versus india professionally and personally? >> rofessionally i learned that things get done in america. if you go to post office, you can post your letter or buy a stamp. you can decide i am going to spend ten minutes and do it. in india, you can spend two hours and it still not be done. it is bureaucracies. it is changing. but there is still a lot like that. and personally, i think it is hard to compare. i cannot say like i feel this way and that way. but two different worlds. you keep learning about america. america is a fascinating country. i am from the north and the southern part is like 20 other languages i don't know a word of. i met many indians here who i
have to speak with in english because i don't know their language and infood -- the food is different. i love both countries. i am from india and this is my new home. my wife is american from rural pennsylvania and i see another part of america which most indians don't. when i go see my in-laws they live on a hundred acre farm. at 5:00 they eat supper not dinner. good for a writer. it is a lot of material there. do any of your coworkers you write about in the book read the book and what are their reactions? >> when i lost the store, i lost touch with them. this was before the facebook. i started writing the book five years after i left, and i lost touch with all of them.
it was a high turnover job. people came and left in three or four months. they were in my head but i couldn't keep track of them. hopefully somebody will find something and read it but i am not in touch with anybody. >> are you still adjusting to the differences of the two cultures? is it difficult? >> i think i am doing pretty well in united states. i have adjusted. sometimes when i go back to india after being just there it is worse culture shock. somebody asked me somewhere what was my next project. in 2007, i went back to india for a year and built a house for my parents. i built a house. not with my hands but the contract contractors and arranged for the
plumbers and everything. i built a house in nine months. that was a shock. i was driving oldsmobile here in america. my wife likes big car. i went back to driving my honda motor bike. we go back to india, you are there and live there for a while and say i forgot this. >> given the environment when you were working in retail, how do you think the challenges and situation might be for other peop people.
>> i don't know what it is now. 8-9 something. j >> i think it is 11. varies from state. 11. thinks have gotten expensive. if you are it would be hard to pay rent, child care and everything. so it is difficult. sure, maybe it has gotten better because the wages went up but i am sure it is hard. people who work at target, walmart, and big stores and a lot of times they don't even have health insurance. it is difficult. i don't have a regular answer to that but i am thinking it hasn't become much easier. how >> how was your relationship with our in-laws and getting to
know them? >> that was a whole different book. my in-laws they lived in a village. they are born on a farm and never left. so they are 70 years old and in a small village. every person that was there lived in one village. when i go there everybody knows who i am because there is only one brown guy in the whole village. they are very enchanted. they have a lot of questions. sometimes questions that were kind of strange like do you wear a turbine because they met an india who did a long time ago. one time my grandfather-in-law and i were stopped by a guy and
said have you seen taj mahal? and he said no? what? and he said aren't you from india and i said no i am from guatemala. oh, i am sorry. so, you, there are cultural faux pass but sweet people. i wrote another book before this and wrote about how i never have eaten beef. after my grandmother read the book she said i have to feed you chicken. i said i have been eating beef for a long time. i like it. i can tell you more. but it was a learning experience. i have been married for 14 years. so they know me now and i know them. and constant learning process. >> thank you so much. [applause] >> thank you.
[applause] >> we have books up at the front counter. there will be a signing. thank you, all. booktv visited capitol hill to ask congress men what they are reading. sdwr >> what are you reading? >> the life and times of robert kennedy who was the new york senator and i am the representf from new york. he wrote a book about bobby kennedy's life, political life and history of his family. it is enjoyable. >> booktv wants to know what you are reading. send us your summer reading list via twitter at booktv or